Wednesday, 23 September 2009


Mid-September gloom on the West coast

Four pitches up and the inevitable happens. We’ve been watching the surrounding glens and hills smudge in and out of view through the greying rain all day but somehow our own little mountain paradise has remained under a spotlight of sun; romping up the rough schist of Creag Ghlas’ Salamander, holding out for a sliver of luck to keep the soaking away until after the climb.

Only two pitches left, we huddle into the belay, shivering and shuffling like ledge-bound guillemots in an Atlantic storm: the onslaught arrives. Water drips off my helmet and down my nose as another squall races down the glen at us, a slavering pack of hunting dogs come to ruin our fun. “As soon the rain stops this wind’ll dry the rock” I tell Steve, feigning confidence. “Aye, we’ll sit it out a while and see what happens” he replies.

Two minutes later, considerably colder and wetter and with no likely respite, we’ve made up our minds and start our descent. Belay devices wring a steady trickle of water from the ropes as we begin the abseils; stiff frozen fingers fumble with prussik loops and screw-gates. Touching down on rope stretch we pack our sodden gear and slide down the hill, to the bikes, to the car, home and to the warm fire. All the while the waves of showers keep breaking.

Tails between our legs, we spend the evening drying gear around the wood-burner and arguing the toss over tomorrow’s plans. The smart money points eastwards to a day in the Cairngorms, but emboldened by blind optimism we decide to drive into the storm again and see if we can punch through to a sunny West coast. Time will tell.

Leaving a near cloudless dawn in Aviemore, we drive north and west into the gathering dark. Passing through Achnasheen the windscreen wipers twitch and by Kinlochewe are in full flow; it looks like our gamble has failed. Beinn Eighe and Liathach have lost their heads to the swirling clouds and conversation falters to a dejected silence. Then, rounding a spur, out over the sea to Diabaig and Skye beyond we spy a blur of blue and gold on the horizon. Sun! Keep driving!

And we drive on.

A little blue speck beneath The Pillar at Diabaig. I'd wanted to climb this route for years and had said that if I could do this, The Bug and The Needle this summer, anything else would be a bonus. Onsighting E3 and headpointing E5 and E7 feel like pretty big bonuses.

Post-Pillar pleasure

Steve in similar post-Pillar shock and awe

Steve on the first pitch of Foil on the Main Wall at Diabaig

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